Re-entry culture shock is the transition into your home culture after having lived for a time in another culture. When you come back to your home culture, you’re often forced to confront your identity and culture in ways you haven't had to before. When you spend significant time in another culture, your values and attitudes will often change, but when you come back to an environment that has not changed, the dissonance can be disorienting. The deeper these attitude and value changes are, the more likely the re-entry period will be unsettling. You'll probably feel some dissonance in one or more of these ways:
- reaction to the affluence of one's own culture (like the ridiculous number of options in the grocery store)
- disgust with the superficial values presented in the media
- adjusting to role changes or undefined roles; an ambiguous home situation
- decreased responsibility compared to your short-term responsibility
- disillusionment with one's church over their abundance and seeming lack of concern for the world
- frustration with a seeming lack of genuinely concerned friends
- an inability to express or share the experience and resulting changes
- an awareness of habits or behaviors that were second nature before you left and now seem meaningless or disturbing
There are basically 3 different reactions to this transition time:
The Assimilators are those who seem to slide right back into the home culture with little to no problem and appear almost to have forgotten the summer. These students may seem to have adjusted well but may have missed out on the greatest growth opportunity, for they do not seem to integrate the things they saw, learned and questioned into a new view of life and the world.
The Alienators are those who seem to reject their home culture. They may become very pessimistic and critical of the home culture, realizing that they too have been a part of it. They seem limited in their ability to see the range of social structures and their appropriateness and are stuck in their ability to create personal alternatives for life values. They may finally succumb to the home culture out of a need to belong somewhere. Again, this reaction does not afford a growthful re-entry time.
The Integrators are those who expect at least some the dissonance they experience. They are able to identify the changes they have undergone or are still experiencing and do not demand immediate closure on them. They want their short-term experience to have a lasting impact on their life and the lives of others. This means that they will grapple with how to integrate the things they saw, learned and questioned into creative alternative choices.
So, how can you experience a growthful re-entry? There are no pat answers, but there are nine helpful guidelines:
It's best if you can discuss your expectations for re-entry even before you go out. If you can anticipate the changes as you come back you will be one step ahead. (So, way to go reading this post!) When you come back, try to identify the sources of dissonance you end up experiencing. What values and attitudes are changing?
When you first re-enter your home culture, you may experience many physical changes: tiredness, apathy, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, etc. These are normal especially if you had a long flight and crossed multiple time-zones. Do the work you need to do in order to make sure you have a balanced diet, get balanced sleep, and get balanced exercise. This will help to bring the body back in balance, and that will help your emotional transition, as well.
Debrief with others who will listen and ask questions: What did you do? Who did you meet? How did you live? What was the easiest? What was most difficult? What was funny? What was sad? What did you learn about yourself? What did you learn about the other culture? What did you learn about the church? About God? (Find at least one person who will spend time with you in this way.)
Review Your Journal
If you kept a journal, go over one entry a day and ask God to teach you something new or remind you of something out of that entry. Continue to write down your thoughts, feelings, insights, and prayers.
Pray alone. Pray with others. Pray with a prayer partner. Pray for the people you met, the church, yourself, the people with whom you want to share.
Give Yourself a Spiritual Check-up
Do I feel closer or more distant from God? What will help my love for Christ grow? A new Quiet Time? A few long walks and prayer? A day alone with the Lord? Be creative, but be disciplined and do not forget the forgiving Father.
Recall the successes and accomplishments of the short-term and develop a list of gifts and strengths that God gave and affirmed.
Tell Your Story
Learn to tell short stories from your short-term that will speak quickly to those with whom you want to share. Learn how to answer (and not despise) the question, “How was your summer?” Use a few descriptive words and ask if you can spend more time together sharing from both of your summers.
Act to Affect Others
Take the time to process and integrate your experience and draw up some plans for action as a result of it. Let us pray this year that all returning short-termers can by the power of the Holy Spirit integrate their short-term experiences into their life now and effect change in others for the mission of Christ's Church.
Adapted from Student Training in Missions Manual, 1992